EU Referendum

EU referendum: Assessing what Michael Gove said on trade deals

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionMichael Gove says the UK would join the European free trade area if it leaves the EU

Michael Gove, the cabinet's leading Eurosceptic, has refused to commit the campaign to quit the EU to the goal of uninterrupted membership of the European single market.

In an interview with Nick Robinson on Radio 4's Today programme, the justice secretary would only say the UK would "be part of the EU free trade zone" and would "have access to the countries of the single market being in a free trade zone".

Mr Gove's remarks further clarify the Leave campaign's approach to any future trade deal between Britain and the EU.

His comments rule out any idea of a post-Brexit UK government seeking to replicate a trade deal on the lines of Norway or Switzerland, which offer free access to EU markets, but which also commit those countries to pay contributions to the EU budget and free movement of EU citizens across borders.

Sources in the Vote Leave campaign make clear that Mr Gove's and their own vision of a future trading relationship amounts to "redefining the single market, not walking away from it".

In other words, they hope to realise an unprecedented deal in which the UK trades with European states free of tariff and non-tariff barriers, but without commitment to the full range of EU trading rules which, in turn, would expose the UK to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

Hard negotiations

David Cameron and colleagues in the Remain campaign argue this would be impossible; that EU leaders have no stake in facilitating a seamless and cost-free transition which might encourage other EU members to head towards the EU exit door.

On Sunday, the French economy minister, Emmanuel Macron, suggested on the Andrew Marr show that Britain would be "completely killed" in trade talks if the country chose to leave the EU.

Leave.EU campaign figures argue this is posturing, designed to deter a vote to leave. A vote to quit the EU would confront these leaders, and everyone else, with a "new reality" in which political posturing would give way to hard-headed economic interests.

A trade war, they suggest, would be mutually destructive and would not be allowed to take place.

Fine details of what a comprehensive post-Brexit might entail will not be offered today by Mr Gove, or by any of his fellow campaigners in future. No such plan exists. It would emerge, necessarily, from hard negotiations.

The campaign is also aware that a line-by-line blueprint would invite a line-by-line rebuttal from David Cameron, his fellow Remain campaigners and colleagues across the EU.

But in its absence, the campaign can look forward to be accused of inviting British voters to take a dangerous leap into the dark.

Related Topics